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Spider-Man through the eyes of a parent

The story of how Spider-Man truly rescued my toddler — and me — from real world villainy.

In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT! We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.

Heads up: this article contains passing references to domestic violence and child endangerment. Please read at your own comfort and prioritize your own mental health and safety. Assistance is always available to you at the National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or Thehotline.org

In February of 2009 I unlocked one of my greatest achievements: I became a mom. My 6 pound, 11.9 ounce son, Orion, was amazing and perfect, so much so that I had trouble wrapping my head around the idea that he could even be mine. How was I qualified for this? This sweet child held an ethereal beauty that was in complete and total contrast to everything in my life, and yet there I was, a seemingly undeserving nobody, in charge of making sure that this wonderous little creature prospered.

Stoked for brand new Spider-Man bedding, Dec. 2009

“With great power comes great responsibility”

The previous year ahead of his arrival had been chaotic and, though I didn’t know it at the time, things were about to get much, much worse. Despite the chaos, Orion was a fantastic baby that grew into a really funny, unique toddler. He loved learning shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Yo Gabba Gabba, and Imagination Movers before he could talk, but shortly before he turned one he was drawn like a magnet to the Spider-Man films from 2002-2007.

“Py-dah-Maaah” was his first complex word and was always accompanied with a super-hero pose and a grin that could make you want to pinch his little cheeks. My mom would sing the Spider-Man theme song for him when he was getting fussy, except she didn’t know the words or the tune past the first few lines. Anytime he felt nervous, insecure, or just bored he’d belt out what she taught him, “Pydah-maa, Pydah-maa, O-wy love Pidah-maaaa!” It was intense! He wanted Spider-Man on everything from blankets to lamps, clothes to toothbrushes. In 2010, I let him pick out a theme for our Christmas tree and, well, you can guess how that turned out.

Spidey Christmas tree. 2010

He was the light in my rapidly darkening world. As violence increased in our household, O’s desire to be a hero did, too. After a particular violent episode he told me, “Momma, no cry. If he give you a owie, I PUNCH him like THIS and say, ‘Don’t. You. Hurt. My. MOMMA!'” as he jumped around and pretended to punch the invisible intruder, plastering him to the wall with the webs that love inspired. It pushed me to make a hard and scary last-ditch effort to get out, but it worked. We were just shy of two years of hell, but we were free.

Looking back, it’s embarrassing that I was gullible enough to let it get to that point. I made it clear to my innocent toddler that he shouldn’t ever feel the need to act as my protector, but he did anyway and still is very defensive of me. Despite the shame I feel for dragging us through it, I hold a sense of awe for how my son handled the situation. He was still such a little guy, only 2 years old at the time, but he spoke with such strength and bravery, and stood by his little mind’s idea of right and wrong.

All the rad gear. July 2012

Surprisingly to me and our doctor, Ori didn’t struggle to deal with his anger or fear negatively for very long afterwards, but I was a fecking train wreck. I attribute a lot of our post trauma healing to Spider-Man, the Avengers, and Aaron — the superhero I call my husband. They gave us space to grow and a place to feel safe, while offering a chance to see the good in others — and within. I didn’t really know much about comics before Orion fell in love with Spidey, but it ended up being an excellent gateway to the broader comic realm. During our troubles, they were a great way for O and me to bond and find joy, and afterwards to discuss things as we worked through the healing process. In fact, comics were what got my current husband and me talking the first night we met. Basically, we wouldn’t be where we are now without Spider-Man.

Hubby and Orion. May 2013

Sorry Bats, Spidey’s the hero we needed

Obviously, I can’t know exactly what initially drew Orion to Spidey, but I have a few ideas. We know from scientific research that children identify better with things with childlike features (like large eyes and round faces), and contrasting colors, so maybe some of it has to do with the young appearance of Tobey Maguire and the iconic blue and red suit. Kids like being around other kids, and though Spider-Man may be a bit older, he’s not an adult. Couple that with the fact that circa 2009, there just wasn’t a lot going on in the superhero world and you’ve got the perfect situation for Spidey infatuation.

Iron-Man (2008) had opened the door for the Avengers, but it was still ages from hitting the big screen in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, Orion loved cartoons like Super Hero Squad, Spectacular Spider-Man, and even Batman: Brave and the Bold; they were fun, bright, and full of hilarious action. To be honest, we still watch these cartoons today and probably appreciate them more now than we did back then. I just think it was difficult for Orion at the tiny age of 1 to identify with other heroes.

“Mom, take my picture!” April 2014

For example, Iron-Man built his own suit and dealt with weapons of war. Ori didn’t understand the technology, had no clue what war was about, and the philanthropy? Didn’t care. He was a fan of, “Some-days-you-just-can’t-get-rid-of-a-bomb-Batman,” but he didn’t get the darkness of the newer Bats. He hid under a blanket because he was abso-freaking-lutely terrified of the Hulk. Ghost Rider seemed scary and meant nothing to him. But you know what he could identify with? He could run, jump, and pretend to shoot webs wildly out of his wrists. Spidey was witty and made jokes, and if you ever met my son you’d see that in him to this day.

“Whatever battle raging inside us, we always have a choice”

At 10 years old, he’s still that fearless kid that stands for what’s right. He’s kind-hearted, bold and compassionate, and he shows courage in the face of adversity. It makes me so proud. There’s no doubt our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man played a large role in who he’s grown to be. As a parent, there’s nothing else I could hope for him more than that. I wonder about other kids, his friends — who’s their hero? Is there someone teaching them why it’s good to be the good guy, or them helps them get up when they fall? Who teaches them that it’s okay to stumble, as long as you’re being the best you can?

Passing the torch…er. the..hat down to his little bro. May, 2019

I feel like Spider-Man is a noble, great role model for children…even for us big kids. He symbolizes personal growth and shows us that we are more than just a skeleton wandering around in a meatsuit; our actions have meaning and we all have potential to overcome our struggles. That’s what makes Spider-Man a great hero — not his powers, but his ability to learn from mistakes and choose what is right, even in the midst of a heated internal struggle. Furthermore, Into the Spider-Verse brought diversity to the big screen with its cast of characters. People who may have not known they existed or even scoffed at the whole idea of Spidey before have the opportunity to connect with the underlying ideas of what he symbolizes. It’s brilliant.

Ori and I watched last month and it blew both of us away. He really connected with it, just as much as our old Spider-Man films from the early 2000s. Afterward he said, “For everything that the old Spider-Man was for me when I was little, I feel like this one was made just for me, now. Ha, Miles would be me and how I am, just clumsy and falling all over the place trying to figure out how to actually be a hero. I’m that guy,” he laughs. “I still want to be the hero.”

Maybe he didn’t notice, but he already is the hero, especially to me.

“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.” – Stan Lee

Thank you for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!

Credit: Marvel

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